Devon stroke patients rebuilding their lives

Stroke patients in Devon are helping to develop services to support them during their recovery.

Stroke patients in Devon are helping to develop services to support them during their recovery.

Support groups for stroke patients are flourishing in the county because of the enthusiasm of patients, says Rhoda Allison, consultant therapist in stroke at Devon Primary Care Trust.

Colin Stephenson from Paignton runs a support group in Kingsteignton with the help of his wife Margaret, his carer. He was affected by stroke four years ago. Now he and Margaret spend much of their time helping to run the group. He acts as a volunteer to support current inpatients and engaging with health care staff that runs the services.

Alan Rice had a stroke two years ago which left him paralysed on his right side and affected his speech. After emergency treatment at the RD and E in Exeter he was transferred to Crediton Hospital for specialist rehabilitation.

As a former builder and retained fireman Alan, aged 77, from Orchard Meadow, Chagford said:" Having worked in a team, I found that I wanted to work with the nurses, physiotherapists and doctors who helped me recover. I do my exercises every day to keep me mobile. My wife Muriel is my carer. Our support group meets regularly in Crediton."

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the UK and the biggest cause of adult disability in the country. One thousand two hundred people in Devon are affected by stroke every year. A stroke, often referred to as a brain attack, happens when the blood supply carrying essential nutrients and oxygen to the brain is cut off from part of the brain.

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Without it brain cells can be damaged or destroyed affecting body functions. For example, if a stroke damaged the part of the brain that controls how limbs move, the sufferer will have difficulty moving their arms.

The majority of patients are older people. Thirty per cent of people suffering from stroke die from the condition, twenty per cent recover and fifty per cent survive with varying degrees of disability.

A new campaign is being launched nationally to encourage people to recognise the most common signs of stroke, and if they see any one of the signs, act by calling 999 for an ambulance.

Prompt emergency treatment can prevent further damage to the brain and help someone make the best possible recovery. Delays can result in death or major long-term disabilities, such as paralysis, severe memory loss and communication problems.

The FAST acronym was created by the Stroke Association and is used by paramedics to assess three symptoms.

These are

* Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye dropped?

* Arm weakness. Can they raise both arms?

* Speech problems. Can you understand what they are trying to say? Are they speaking clearly?

* Time to call 999.

All people with stroke and their carers in Devon are being invited to a conference on April 16 at Watcombe School, Torbay, to discuss ways of coping with some of the problems post stroke and providing care over the longer term.

This is the third annual conference, which is organised by Devon PCT, South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust and the Stroke Association, and speakers will advise stroke patients on new developments and services which can help them. A panel of experts will answer questions from the audience. For more details or to book a place at the 16 April event, please call Carolyn Bull on 01803 655045.

A new service development takes place in March with the introduction of a vascular check through GP surgeries. This is aimed at identifying people at risk from stroke or heart disease. It is targeted at people aged between 40 and 74.